Sincretismo; press viewing; Cic El Almacen 2020
& Estefania Comojo: exclusive interview
Cic El Almacen further demonstrate its versatility as an arts centre by hosting a recently-opened, intriguing and thought provoking visual arts exhibition, that will remain in situ until April 25th. . Therefore, if Lanzarote is able to open her doors again on schedule, there will still be time for you to catch an exhibition that was thought-provoking even in a time when we had never heard of this coronavirus and I am sure will seem even more intriguing in the re-birth of a world that will surely seem all the more precious to us.
Sincretismo, by the Lanzaroteño sculptor Rigoberto Camacho, collects his latest production of works, which, based on an investigation that could be described as anthropological, fuses in his pieces new and old material elements. These combine to express cultural diversity through the symbiosis, coexistence and the integration of such elements. Deep down, what Rigoberto Camacho proposes is to question the concept of identity in Western societies based on ideas of race, colour or culture, and even of self.
To give all the details of Sincretismo, Rigoberto Camacho himself previewed the exhibition, accompanied by the Councillor of Culture of the Cabildo de Lanzarote, Alberto Aguiar, in a press event held in the venue on Thursday 23rd January. He spoke to tv and radio journalists from The Canary Islands, Lancelot Media and Biosphere tv (in Spanish, so I can give only a very brief overview) about his materials, methodology and motivation in creating this collection. He spoke of his materials giving an impression of destiny to the viewer but being in fact soft and pliable to the artist. all across the arts will try to bring you more about his methodology when we attend the add-on walk around tour that will be conducted on 18th February at 6.00 pm. by Estifania Comejo, our favourite multi-tasking teacher, student and freelance curator and artist.
We bumped into Estefania at the press conference, which she attended briefly before work called her to another room in Cic El Almacen where she was talking, playing and working with young children, enthusing a new generation with her own love of the arts. She will explain to them we´re sure, but we know, too that she will encourage them to make their own explorations and make their own informed evaluations. She told us that she is currently taking a masters course and we look forward to another interesting interview with her.
As for Rigoberto’s motivation for this Sincretismo exhibition it speaks immediately, and in this quiet setting of a private viewing for the press, quite loudly in plea for awareness and tolerance of each other and to celebrate the similarities and differences between the races, religions and cultures of this world rather than condemn them.
The largest of the pieces, is almost centrally in the floor of the main exhibition space, and forces us to think even more deeply about how human kindness reacts to less-than-sea-worthy-boat loads of people arriving on our shores, some dreadfully ill and undernourished, some already dead from the journey from their homeland. This is powerful art and has something important to say.
We returned a week or two later to follow Estefania’s on her guided walk and talk, as she led a small party through the collection that is Sincretismo. Before we actually looked into the the studio, though, she took us upstairs to the education centre. This a beautifully laid out technical area with computers and audio visual facilities. This enables her to show a short introductory film about Cesar Manrique, the artst who of course inspired so much of the current positive attitude to art and culture in Lanzarote. Cic El Almacen as it is today is a realisation of his vision, that led to him and some artist colleageus turning a run down building in to what is today affectionately termed The Warehouse.
Spedaking in Spanish, of course, for the party she was leading, Estefania promised us an interview later, which we gladly accepted, but we followed the tour anyway. Although not precisely understanding her we could nevertheless discern her passion for the art on show, and could even tell how eloquently she was advocating the case for the artist and the approach he had taken.
We understood when she mentioned more traditional elements of his work such as well known statues on the island in San Bartolome and Teguise.
The exhibits were in a slightly different lay-out than when we had attended the press conference, with the wall display of some of the smaller items showing them in more –wrap-around view that when we had seen them on the floor as they had been previously. The huge, dominating head and life belt that had been so much the centrepiece then had now been moved slightly off centre on the main floor and that changed our reaction to it, as we noticed how what seemed to be such a hum face from the front was almost landscape like from the back, thus saying something thought provoking about Man and his relationship with the land.
It was amazing how many of the works, all either dull, stoney grey or boot polish black somehow seemed to change perspective if you looked at them for any length of time. A baby in a cot became a boot, a crib became a boat and vice versa and constantly.
So by the time Estefania invited me to ask my first question I was so fully intrigued as to be slightly confused, and my prepared questions had changed shape and form much as the exhibits had seemed to.
My therefore suddenly revised first question was ´do you think this art, this exhibition, these pieces reveal an optimistic view of the world?´
´No. I don’t think so. Not for me,´ Estefania smiles. ´When speaking with the artist, Rigoberto, he has told me that Sincretismo is an exhibition of two realities working together but actually being very different, one from another. This smaller exhibit here is very special. Beautiful, like it belongs in a museum. This one is made to seem like it might be found in a store or a garage, I think suggesting that is not an optimistic way to speak about society. We are effectively looking at body parts here,… there is a leg and a head, but it is not a beautiful body. It is aggressive not in an aesthetically pleasing way but in a disjointed, dis-located way that does not seem optimistic. And the materials, when we look at them, seem to be fighting us. It is a reality, but not an optimistic one.´
I find all this fascinating and because Estefania has just referred to the nature of some the materials employed by the artist, I ask her if she can be more specific about what those materials are.
´The materials are easy to work with for the artist, but that is not the most important thing for him, He enjoys the work process and that some materials mix well and others don’t he likes this stone-like, effect that these materials make and how they mix with colour and pigments, but for him the process is the most important aspect of working. Process and end product are important to him, and here the end product is speaking about the black people of Africa. This offers another point of view on a subject that probably differs from the European point of view. This offers us another point of view. We tend not to take into account that they are all living over there in that huge country. We are busy thinking about our things. Perhaps we are thinking Nike trainers or the coffee in Starbucks. These exhibits are important. They are not things of which we post a photograph on Instagram.´
The piece that by its size dominates the exhibition is a front facial model of a head and twisted body as trapped by a lifebelt as it is aided by it and I remark that it is an image that reminds us that such people are seeking refuge on the shorelines of Europe, including here on The Canary Islands, and is a stark reminder of what they are seeking to escape.
¨Yes. It’s very traumatic,´ Estefania agreed. ¨The other day, in the kind of weather we take for granted over here, I was on Famara beach with my boyfriend, and he suggested that the calmness of the sea might tempt refugees to aim for our shores in such conditions. I thought about that, and wondered how I would feel to see them. I wondered whether they would be afraid of me, and how nervous we would all be to face each other.´
Speaking of such nervous first meetings makes me wonder about how many times Estefania even meets new artists with and for whom she is going to be working.
I ask her about those meetings, and whether or not they, too, are meetings of the unknown. What does an artist have to do to impress her, I ask, and indeed does it matter whether he impresses her or not?
´To impress me? That’s a strange question. I do know that whether or not I like the artist and his art when we begin working together, by the end I always love it ! I don’t know what happens in between but I love the work I do and if an artists is honest and enjoys his work as much I do mine then we end up with me very much appreciating the art. I think a relationship with a piece of art is sometimes like a personal relationship, and remember I often live with pieces of art long after their creator has gone home. I am here with them, learning about them, thinking about them,….´
And do you have conversations with them.
´Yes I do. I have abstract conversations with them. On first meeting them I might not understand anything about them, but by listening to the artist, and then living with the objects I come to know them a lot better, even though every day I continue to discover new things about them that re-shape my own ideas. Learning is a long and continuous process.´
That talk of time passing reminds me that it has been just over a year now since we first met Estafania, At that meeting she described herself as a freelance artist and curator, but she has mentioned to us recently that she has once more returned to studies and is taking a Masters degree. I ask whether that changes the way she thinks of, or describes, herself?
´Well, I have two new exhibitions scheduled for later this year in The Casa De Culture in Arrecife, as a creator not a curator.
The first one will be in April and is one of portraitures with other young artists and the second one may be a joint exhibition with another artist from the island. He is about seventy years old and was a teacher for many years. He loves the classic arts and paints figurative work which is quite different in style from my work.´
´I feel slightly nervous about it, because this kind of classicist, figurative work is not for everyone these days. There is a thirst for the new, so this will be a challenge. He deserves the exhibition, of course, and we must remember that society is not only made up young people discarding old traditions but also has older people who wish to preserve those traditions.´
´I´m also still teaching some classes of older people and I enjoy doing that as much as I enjoy doing this guide work at exhibitions. And that is what I mean about constant learning. When I am teaching these older people I might talk about China and its arts and there will be somebody in the class who has been to China and can therefore add so much more to my understanding of, as well as my knowledge of, art from that part of the world.´
´The man who creates the figurative art is also a teacher like me, and he has always wanted to show his work in an exhibition for his students. An artist can’t just exist in another world. He has to stay connected to the everyday interests of society. With Rigoberto you can even find the two artists in one item, and he might say that he creates figurative art because he is asked to but he also says that it makes him happy to be able to supply something that people want. Why not? But an artist or a teacher who wants to create something bigger for his students might think that doing figurate works helps an artist to do that, then I think it is fine. He will, nevertheless, also look to create art that challenges the mind, of himself as an artist, and the mind of a viewer.´
I am left to wonder then whether Estefania sees it as part of her job description, or even as part of her own ethos, to draw into Cic El Almacen those non-traditional audience members who might have never previously dreamed of stepping into an art gallery. Surely she sees it as her role to ensure they come back for future exhibitions?
´I think it is important that people love the arts and the artists, but the few artists I know who live on the artist’s income, in the end, come to realise that the people who come to exhibitions might not be the people who consume real art. The people who do consume real art are living in the big houses that can accommodate big pictures, big statues, big mural, I might never become that person with a big house so I have to find different ways to deliver my art, smaller ways for people to consume my art. There is a danger now that the public might come to consider galleries as sort of artistic theme parks. That is a risk. It is not about whether we have more or less people here. It is important that we can attract those who do want to engage with art, and that we give them something to engage with. That is something I think Rigoberto and Cic El Almacen have done very successfully with this Sincretismo exhibition.´
Estefania is a convincing advocate for the arts and a stout proponent of the artists she serves when guiding visitors to the gallery around its exhibitions. Speaking with her is always full of smiles and shared enjoyment of the arts but she nevertheless keeps it real and makes me think. So often she reminds me of something so basic that I am forced to turn my high flying ideas on their head.
Come the new dawn, call in at Cic El Almacen to check times for public viewing and then, when you visit Sincretismo, have a look at everything else that happens in the upstairs, cinema / concert hall and in the other parts of the ´warehouse´ that surround its central feature of a wonderfully buzzing bar and restaurant. And if you see any notifications of some walks that Estefania might be taking, put your name down. You won’t be disappointed.